Schumann-Heink, Ernestine



Dramatic contralto; born at Lieben, near Prague. Her family name was Roessler. Ernestine was one of a family of three sisters and a brother. Their father was an Austrian army officer and they were extremely poor. The entire career of the singer has been one of constant struggle. When she was ten Ernestine was sent to the Ursuline Convent in Prague, and it was there discovered that she was the possessor of a beautiful voice. She remained in the convent two and a half years; then her father wastransferred from Lieben to Gratz, and in the latter city she was placed under the instruction of a singing-teacher named Marietta von Leclair, who, recognizing Ernestine's great talent, and knowing what the circumstances of her parents were, gave her lessons free. Upon the recommendation of Maria Wilt, once a famous soprano of the Vienna Opera, who had heard the young girl sing, the director of the Vienna Opera gave her an interview which did not prove a success; but later the young singer was heard by the director of the Dresden Opera in an aria from Le Prophete and the brindisi from Lucrezia Borgia and was engaged at once. In 1878, when she was seventeen, she made her operatic debut in Dresden at the Court Theatre as Azucena in II Trovatore. She remained in that city four years, singing mostly minor parts, such as the Shepherd in Tannhauser, and later began a course of study with Franz Wüllner. While in Dresden she married a retired army officer named Heink. She was next engaged at Hamburg, and from there went to Krell's Theatre in Berlin, where her real success as a vocalist began. She soon returned to Hamburg, singing there the roles of Carmen, Ortrud in Lohengrin, Adriane in Rienzi, and Amneris in Aida. She separated from her husband and married Carl Schumann, an actor and stage manager of the Thalia Theatre in Berlin, with whom she lived happily for many years and by whom she has had eight children, all of whom are living. Herr Schumann died in 1903. The greatest successes of her career came after her appearance at Bayreuth in 1896. She sang the roles of Erda, Waltraute, and other important parts, and her triumphs there led to her engagement in London and the United States in 1898, when she joined the Metropolitan Opera Company. Her greatest roles are Ortrud, and Brangaene. She is a popular concert singer, and has appeared at the Worcester, Bangor and Portland Festivals. Mme. Schumann-Heink appeared in light opera in 1904, when she starred in Love's Lottery, a comic opera. The following year she was married to William Rapp, jr., many years her junior, and the son of the late William Rapp, former editor of the Chicago Staats-Zeitung. Madame SchumannHeink's voice is vibrant, powerful and of intense sweetness. Some have called its range a mezzo-soprano, rather than a contralto. Its rich quality, the singer's dramatic gifts and her winning personality have made her one of the most popular singers of the day, both in Europe and America.